A year ago The Royal Pier in Aberystwyth was pulling in a huge crowd for Conor McGregor’s comeback fight.
Making the most of Box Office events such as that, and Wilder v Fury II the following month, led to the multi-purpose venue’s manager
And while The Notorious has recently been back inside the octogan, there is no indication as to when The Pier will be able to open its doors to UFC fans or anybody else again.
Like every other on-trade venue in the country, the pandemic has created huge uncertainty for Lee and his team. Something few could have foreseen when BT Sport headed west to hand Lee the trophy a year ago.
He explains: “To the point of COVID-19, the business was faring up extremely well. Our modernisation plan was pretty much on track and we were seeing positive returns on the investments made to date throughout the operation to improve the guest experience.”
When the pandemic struck Lee’s first thoughts were with his workforce and the Royal Pier itself.
“The main worry was being starved of the information I would require to ensure that I could satisfy the questions and concerns of a destabilised workforce.
“There was an obvious element of apprehension for the pleasure pier itself, a notable local landmark of which I have been a custodian for 25 years.
“I also knew that for some customers, we were their only source of daily human contact, so worry for their physical and mental wellbeing was natural.”
All 96 members of staff were furloughed and Lee made use of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to safeguard the workforce.
They have been back at work too, in between lockdowns and firebreaks, which have presented more hurdles for the venue to overcome.
“All personnel remained in good health throughout the pandemic,” continues Lee, “and despite seeing a strong visitor attendance throughout the summer months; no cases of COVID-19 were tracked back to the pier, which is testament to the control measures in place and the pro-active efforts by the personnel.
“The local authority’s enforcement officer commented that we were the most responsible self-regulated premises in the county which obviously meant a lot.”
However, ever-changing rules and guidance have proved to be challenging for staff and customers alike.
“A disjointed UK-wide approach led to confusion and frustration from our visitors. We were constantly met with challenges around the inconsistencies in policy and place. At times we saw the worst of humanity.
“We have now had close to six months without any trading at all. Our nightclub has remained closed since last March (2020). Ordinarily a venue where people could let loose, it was genuinely upsetting to police a set of rules and restrictions that did not work for us and risked damaging our reputation.”
Despite the huge setbacks presented by the pandemic, Lee is confident that the doors will reopen and sports fans will once again enjoy huge occasions on the 30 big screens at The Pier.
“I can definitely see the return of Box Office events. The appetite for major sporting events will not be lessened greatly by the pandemic.
“I am confident that people will return to socialise en masse for the biggest events in the sporting calendar. We are in the process of sourcing outdoor screens to give the live offering another shot in the arm.”
But that is not to say that things will remain the same as the business evolves to its next incarnation.
“I think the service model will change a little. We will probably migrate towards a more precautionary point of contact. There will be greater emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness, and I think we will see a subtle promotion of distancing in social spaces without the crudity of screens.”
He adds: “The development plans for the pier continue, albeit at a slightly slower pace due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.”
Predicting what might happen in the next 12 months is a mug’s game, but Lee is cautiously optimistic.
“It is unlikely the business will fully reopen after the next lockdown period due to inevitable restrictions and some ongoing refurbishment works, but we will see that it is fleshed out to the point where it achieves a balanced offering and at least washes its face.”
Like Conor McGregor The Pier is bound to be back up on its feet and making positive noises in the not too distant future.
- Check out how other BT Sport Manager of the Month winners – – have fared 12 months on from winning their awards.